Fidgeting and Movement

Teaching the Art and Value of Fidgeting and Movement to Improve Focus and Reduce Distracting Behaviors

I have been doing a lot of Professional Development in school districts these last few weeks in preparation for the new school year.  As I ask teachers what some of their most significant challenges are, one of their top answers is, “How can I get kids to focus?”

ADHD is a neurobiological condition. Imaging studies show differences in the structure and activity between the brains of people with and without ADHD.  The loading and releasing of the neurotransmitters Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin in the brain’s prefrontal cortex is inconsistent for people with ADHD.

These neurotransmitters contribute to:

– Maintaining alertness
– Increasing focus
– Sustaining thought, effort, and motivation

Activity can help stimulate the networks of the brain that control attention, increasing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the way ADHD medications do.


That is why Fidgets, Movement, Music, Doodling, and Chewing may all be helpful!

While we know that activity can help some people focus, the challenges are:

  • What type of movement is helpful?
  • How can we help students learn self-awareness so they are not distracting or annoying those around them?
  • How can we help students feel comfortable caring for their needs without fear of embarrassment or drawing unwanted attention from others?

Fidgeting – Why and How


I have found that the answer to these questions begins with teaching ALL students a simple lesson in the Art and Value of Fidgeting.

  1. Explain to the entire class that some people find it easier to focus when moving. There is no need to mention ADHD or bring attention to any particular student.  The goal is to help ALL students become aware of their unique needs – and be more understanding and accepting of others’ needs.
  2. Share that many different objects can be used as fidgets – it’s a matter of finding what works well for the individual. You may want to brainstorm about different objects so students can expand their ideas.
  3. Teach the difference between an item being a helpful fidget and a distracting object. I like using a simple click pen to demonstrate how an object can be beneficial and distracting.  If I am clicking the pen while I am alone, it might help me focus. However, it might create a distraction if I am around others, so I will need to find a different object to use.
  4. Some students may unintentionally break or damage the item they are using to focus. How often have we seen the clip broken on the click pen?  We need to teach students that even though they don’t need to, they need to be aware of not being destructive with the items that they are using.
  5. Teach the concept of “Primary” vs. “Secondary” focus. If I am passively clicking the pen while focusing on other thoughts or actions, the pen is my “Secondary” focus – a tool.  However, if I start to pay attention to the pen, perhaps notice the ridges or the clip, it has become my “Primary” focus – a toy.  How do we know which it is and help the students gain that awareness?  Ask them in a non-judgmental, curious manner, such as, “I notice you are clicking your pen; how can we know if it is a helpful fidget or a distraction for you?”  Parents sometimes express concern about their children listening to music while studying.  The same principle applies.  Is it a new song that the child is learning the words to, or is it a song that they’re familiar with that is in the background of their consciousness?

Here is a handout from my book, ADHD, Executive Function, & Behavioral Challenges in the Classroom: Managing the Impact on Learning, Motivation, and Stress called “Is it a Fidget or a Toy” that goes into more detail.


Other Helpful Types of Movement

Sometimes, children need BIGGER movement.  However, simply holding a fidget is not enough stimulation to help them stay engaged in their learning.  It can be beneficial to create a variety of opportunities for students to move without distracting other students. In my blog The Kinesthetic Classroom: How Movement Benefits all Students, Especially Those with Symptoms of ADHD you will find ways to incorporate movement as needed.

If you have a student struggling to fidget appropriately or move around in the classroom without disrupting others, it may be helpful to use the process of Collaborative Problem Solving to help that student gain awareness of their needs and help them develop alternative means of being active to focus.

For more information on Collaborative Problem Solving, visit:


Remember – we all sometimes need help to focus on what we want when we want to.  Movement can help us return to what we know is most important.  For some students, this skill requires learning, support, and patience.

Please let me know if I can support you as you help your students.

[email protected]


More articles on that discuss fidgeting:

Trouble Focusing – Try Fidgeting with Purpose

Response to Mom: Frustrated at School

Help a Teacher to Understand a Child

Don’t Ban Fidget Spinners

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